“Yes, we want to publish your book!” the publisher told me. I had written it because I would like today’s children to know that children’s experiences were not always what theirs have been. Now I knew that someone besides me believed in the book enough to publish it. I felt so lucky.
I simply couldn’t sit on the news. I called my mother-in-law long distance to tell her that Rebecca, A Maryland Farm Girl–the chapter book that I had based on her Depression-era childhood–was going to be published.
I was told that I would get a contract in early January 2001, just a couple of months away. It was another month or so before a “work for hire” contract came. I e-mailed a list of “concerns” and was advised that I had been sent the wrong contract. A year later–shortly after I was told that we were on track for publication in the spring–it was all off.
I collapsed. Then, after a restorative visit with my children and grandchildren, I attended a workshop on e-marketing and began to envision marketing to teachers across the state. By the end of that hour, I had decided to self-publish.
This would be my second self-publishing venture. I had resolved with the first book (a slightly fictionalized memoir) that what I wanted to do was sell enough books to inspire myself to write a second. And that had happened. But now I was no longer working full-time and couldn’t afford to be a dilettante; I had to seriously try to make money.
First I rejoined PMA. Besides the strength that lies in numbers, membership enabled me to have the book carried by the wholesaler Baker & Taylor.
I resigned myself to the necessity of giving away review copies, and a few months in advance of my publishing date, I mailed these to children’s book reviewers along with a review card with all the particulars (i.e., title, author, illustrator, publisher, contact, ISBN, number of pages, wholesaler, binding).
I planned the promotional materials I would need. Of course, this would include a press release and more than one version. Variations on the release included: (local) “Frederick Farm Woman Is Subject of Children’s Book To Be Published This Fall”; (state) “Maryland Farm Woman…”; and (national) “Farm Woman Is subject.…”
Earlier I had scored a full-page article in the Montgomery Gazette on my first book; this piece mentioned that I was working on a children’s book. So I re-contacted the writer and asked if she would be interested in doing another article now that the children’s book was coming out. Achieving this turned out to be little tricky, like the chicken and the egg. I wanted to use the article to get bookstore programs (and sell books) but the reporter wanted me to have a local program lined up before she did the article. Nonetheless it worked out because an author friend approached a local bookstore to put in a good word for a program centered on my book.
Another newspaper article resulted from a good friend carrying a copy of my book to a contra dance. The friend knew that she would see the owner/publisher of a newspaper there, and the paper was located in the county where my mother-in-law lived.
I also planned the printed materials. The design company that produced my cover also made a disk to Modern Postcard’s specifications; I have used Modern over the years because their prices are very reasonable and they do good work. I ordered 500 large-size postcards of the cover which noted both the title and author. These cards have become invitations to specific readings, postcards for requesting review copies (sent with press releases), and notepaper just to drop someone a line telling them about the book.
Then it occurred to me that the three black-and-white drawings from the book would make a lovely greeting card. A friend with a small letterpress in her basement created this at a very reasonable price. I use these cards to send thank messages to reporters who write about the book, to write to bookstore owners who send for a copy of the book, or to communicate with community relations coordinators who ask me to do signings, etc.
Reaching the Target Markets
With a title like Rebecca, A Maryland Farm Girl, there was nothing indefinite about the book or its subject. Clearly it is regional, so my first communication was to school media supervisors across the state. I called the State Department of Education and was faxed the names and addresses I needed. Each supervisor received a copy of the book and a letter from me, plus a review card so that they could make an order.
I also had an old book of public library contacts from around the state, and I called all of the systems to ascertain who received children’s materials. They too each received a book, review card, photocopies of two newspaper articles, and one copy of a review from a respected source (which I now had in hand).
In addition to the regional aspect, I worked the “farm” angle, going online to find farm museums and such attractions, as well as the “girl” angle, although I am trying not to keep boys away from the book.
One month after pub date, about half of my 1,000-copy print run is gone, including almost 200 copies I sent to media, bookstores (after requests through BookSense), teachers, library supervisors, and specialty spots that actually requested books, such as the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian, the Frederick Festival of the Arts, the Montgomery County Historical Society, the Frederick County Office of Economic Development, and several national farm museums.
I have had three (so far) major, full-page newspaper articles, a radio interview, two reviews, and three bookstore programs. Scheduled future events include an intergenerational program with the Hebrew Home, three school programs, a literary luncheon at a local arts center sponsored by Friends of the Library, and a reading at a local boutique on Dupont Circle. Other activity is still firming up, and the future may even hold a Los Angeles Times review–if they use the review copy my eight-year-old grandson sent them!
Whatever happens next, though, one nice thing about writing a book about the past is that it never becomes passé. And if you are the publisher, you don’t pull the book from the bookstores in a few short months
Diane Leatherman lives in Cabin John, Maryland, with her husband and teenaged daughter. She is a freelance writer now, but has been a park ranger and teacher, has worked at an “eighteenth century” dirt-level farm, and was most recently Executive Director of Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, Maryland. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.